Reaching the College Cup is nothing new for the University of Akron men’s soccer team. For the second consecutive year, the Zips will be playing for a chance to win the national championship.
[media-credit name=”Photo Courtesy of Akron Athletics” align=”alignleft” width=”144″][/media-credit]Akron (20-1-2) has grown accustomed to winning as of late, posting an extremely impressive 43-2-3 4 record over the past two seasons and leading the NCAA in winning percentage since 2005. With the team’s latest victory over California, Akron matched the national record of going unbeaten in 39 straight home matches, a record set by Tulsa from 1988 to 1992. Akron is 37-0-3 in a stretch of home contests dating back to the 2008 season.
Unfortunately for the Zips, they will be traveling to Santa Barbara for the Final Four — far away from their own friendly confines of Lee R. Jackson Field in Ohio, where 3,400 fans cheered them on in the national quarterfinals.
As the #3 seed in the tournament, Akron has beaten West Virginia, #14 seeded Indiana and #6 seeded California to receive a spot in the 2010 College Cup Final Four.
Although only four seniors graduated from last year’s national champion runner-up squad that lost in the final game to Virginia in penalty kicks after playing the match to a 0 – 0 tie through double overtime, there is one large hole present.
Forward Teal Bunbury, a sophomore last season, decided to leave school early to enter the Major League Soccer draft. The nation’s leader in goals from a year ago, Bunbury was selected fourth overall by the Kansas City Wizards.
This year, a newcomer has spearheaded the Akron offensive attack. Freshman forward Darren Mattocks has made an immediate impact, scoring 18 goals — good for third in the nation — in 23 games this season and postseason to help replace Bunbury. Mattocks has posted six goals and three assists in the last five games, including a goal and an assist in the Akron’s 2-1 win over #14 seed Indiana in the Elite Eight.
The Zips secured a trip to Santa Barbara for the Final Four last Saturday with win over #6 seeded California. After playing to a 3-3 tie in regulation, Akron junior defender Kofi Sarkodie scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick that went off the fingertips of Cal goalkeeper David Bingham and into the upper right corner of the goal to give the Zips the 3-2 advantage.
To make the Final Four, Akron had to overcome adversity that they had rarely seen this year to beat Cal. For the first time all season, the Zips found themselves trailing in a home game after the Golden Bears scored in the 30th minute. Akron responded quickly, however, and a goal by junior midfielder Michael Nanchoff knotted the match at 1-1. Just 34 seconds later, Akron jumped out to a 2-1 lead after a costly turnover by Cal led to a goal by sophomore midfielder Scott Caldwell on an assist from senior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong. The goal was Caldwell’s fourth of his career — all coming during this year’s postseason run.
Late in regulation, the Zips were forced to overcome adversity once again when California forward John Fitzpatrick forced overtime by scoring the equalizer at 3-3 with just 91 seconds remaining in regulation.
After playing to a 3-3 tie at the end of the second overtime period, Akron goalkeeper David Meves made a pair of huge saves and Sarkodie, Akron’s final shooter, netted the decisive blow.
The Zips will face the 10th seeded University of Michigan in the national semifinals, after the Wolverines bested the 2nd seeded Maryland Terps 3-2 in overtime.
Michigan is not an unfamiliar foe to Akron. Earlier this season, on Oct. 19, the Zips dominated the Wolverines at home in a 7-1 victory. The loss was not only Michigan’s last, but also by far the team’s worst.
The key for Akron may be the offense. The Zips are 65-0-2 when they score at least two goals in a match during Caleb Porter’s five years as head coach.